The big freeze of 1963
Boxing day evening 1962 and we were driving back from Storrington in my dad’s old Morris Minor. As with most Christmases back then, we’d spent the day with my dad’s sister and her family.
Arriving back home in Patcham, at about 10.30 pm, we were all getting out of the car when, looking up, my dad said, do you know, I think it might be snowing.
By the time we’d got indoors you could see the snow really starting to fall and I spent the next half hour or so before bedtime with my nose glued to the front window. I was 13 and just hoping and praying with all my might that it wouldn’t stop.
Well, we all know what happened next.
Waking next morning, the snow was beyond my wildest dreams, and I could barely contain my excitement. Desperate to get out and explore, my older brother Pete and I decided to trek up to see Charlie Yeates in the top lodges at Stanmer. The Yeates’ were family friends, and we’d often spend time up there, having a chat and usually a cuppa or two, as well.
The walk up to the lodges from our house in Lomond Avenue would normally take about 35 minutes but with 12 inches of snow underfoot, that morning, it probably took twice as long. When we arrived, Charlie, Alice, Charlie’s wife and Tessa were there, and we joined them in front of the log fire to discuss, what else? The weather, of course
After a while, Pete and I thought we’d go a bit further and see if we could make it all the way up to the Beacon. The prevailing wind had largely flattened the snow in front of Great Wood but looking North up the Ditchling Road, we could see where the snow had startled to drift
Charlie, who’d already seen how bad the snow was, urged us strongly not to attempt it, but with the foolhardiness of youth we brushed off his warnings and finishing our tea, bid the Yeates’ family farewell, and off we went.
Back out on the Ditchling Road again, and within a few hundred yards the scene was incredible. Massive banks of snow blocked our path creating an almost arctic landscape. Clambering up and over one drift and then wading almost waist deep through the next, was absolutely thrilling and we felt just like a couple of characters out of a Jack London novel. At one point we found ourselves walking on top of the old flint estate boundary wall, some 8 feet above the road, as the snow had drifted so deep that it completely covered it.
Somewhere between the two Dew Ponds we came across an abandoned SM Tidy bulldozer. The cab was empty and it looked stuck. As we walked on past, we half expected to find the poor driver face down in the snow and frozen to death.
Eventually, we reached the Beacon and braving the biting wind coming at us from the escarpment, we clambered up to the Trig Point. For a few minutes we stood with icy gusts stinging our face, surveying the Weald below us, white, frozen and utterly beautiful, before turning to find some shelter and starting the long journey home.
Throughout that winter, Charlie’s house continued its previous role as a destination for a seemingly endless stream of visitors. Weekends would find all sorts of people gathering there. The adults would talk archaeology, politics and probably religion too. Us youngsters would help cut up logs for the fire, play in the snowy woods, or on the huge rope swing Charlie had hanging from one of the massive beech trees that surrounded the garden.
Sometime around late February we had a second fall of snow. For some reason this was wetter than the first fall and it resulted in an icy crust forming on the snow from earlier.
A couple of days after this second snow fall, word must have gone round that everyone should bring their toboggans up to Charlie’s. Patchway Field had turned into a sheet of ice and this huge slope was now prime for some serious sledging. When we arrived, there must have been over 20 people at the house with all manner of sledges, planks and tin trays. We all moved down long lane to gate at the top of the field and scrambled over.
Charlie was in the lead and, fag on and flat out, he hurtled down the field only just stopping before he hit the fence at the bottom. We all joined in the fun with my Bro taking snaps of both Charlie and I at full pelt. Most of us stayed until the dropping sun, hunger and the creeping chill drove us to leave.
Without doubt it was the best day’s tobogganing I’ve ever had, either before, or since.